Announcing my retirement: blog from our Chief Executive, Sue Wilkinson MBE

After five and a half years of leading The Reading Agency, I have now decided that I will be retiring in July 2019. It has been a great privilege to lead this organisation and to work with so many talented and committed staff, trustees and partners, all of whom share our belief in the transformative power of reading and our vision for a world where everyone is reading their way to a better life.

We set ourselves a very ambitious agenda five years ago. We wanted to continue to deliver our high quality partnership programmes, to develop them with the people we want to reach and to get even better at measuring their impact. We also, given the challenging times we are all operating in, wanted to review our business and delivery models to ensure long term sustainability and to create the capacity and resources to think about the reading offers of the future. It has been challenging, inspiring and hugely satisfying to work with everyone on this and we were all very excited this year to see it captured and celebrated in our new vision and mission.

None of this could have happened without Arts Council funding and the strong partnerships we have had in place with a wide range of organisations and stakeholders across the whole of the UK. One of the most inspiring things about working at The Reading Agency is the range, quality and diversity of the organisations we work with to develop and deliver our programmes and I am immensely grateful to all of you for the help, and inspiring ideas you have given me and the organisation.

The Reading Agency Chair, Vice-Chair and I have thought very carefully about my retirement. It has been designed to ensure that the new CEO will have plenty of time to get to know the organisation, people, partners and programmes in advance of the next Arts Council England national portfolio organisation process but also because we think we are now ready to have someone new in post who can to take The Reading Agency to the next stage. They will be coming into an organisation full of people passionate about our mission and committed to finding new ways of using the power of reading to tackle life’s big challenges. They will have the resources they need to help them achieve this goal and a strong and supportive Board.

I am looking forward to seeing all the great work I know the organisation will do in the years to come. I am going to be doing lots of travelling, continuing my trustee and mentoring work and of course reading the great pile of books I have built up over the course of five years of working with people who love to talk about, share and discuss reading. Thank you again for all your help and support over the course of the last five years.

Get involved

We are seeking an expert research manager to evaluate the 2019 Summer Reading Challenge. Find out more here

Read more about our diverse programmes, all designed to help tackle life’s big challenges through the proven power of reading

Sue Wilkinson steps down as The Reading Agency Chief Executive

Friday 18 January 2019: Sue Wilkinson MBE, Chief Executive of The Reading Agency, has announced today that she will be retiring in July 2019.

Sue Wilkinson has led The Reading Agency since January 2014. Highlights of her five-year tenure include a £2 million award from the Big Lottery Fund for Reading Friends, a UK-wide programme that tackles loneliness through reading; a new partnership with the Welsh Government to deliver Reading Well in Wales; and an extraordinary gift of three years of funding for the Quick Reads initiative for emerging adult readers, from bestselling author Jojo Moyes.

Wilkinson has also prioritised evaluation of the impact of reading programmes. Between 2014 and 2017 The Reading Agency led an innovative, collaborative project, funded by the Peter Sowerby Foundation, to produce a reading outcomes framework for use across the sector. In 2018, the charity commissioned a new report from think tank Demos, which found significant evidence to show that reading can tackle some of the UK’s biggest societal challenges. In 2019 they will work with an external research partner to undertake a large-scale impact evaluation of the Summer Reading Challenge, funded by Arts Council England.

Wilkinson said: “It has been a great privilege to lead this organisation and to work with so many talented and committed members of staff, trustees, funders and partners, all of whom share The Reading Agency’s vision for a world where everyone is reading their way to a better life. Developing our business model and our life-changing reading programmes over the last five years has been challenging, exciting and hugely satisfying. I look forward to seeing all the brilliant work I know The Reading Agency will do in the future.”

Matthew Littleford, Chair of The Reading Agency, will be appointing a consultancy to recruit a new Chief Executive. He said: “Thanks to Sue’s commitment and strong leadership The Reading Agency has achieved fantastic things during the last five years. She has generated new strategic partnerships, raised our profile, and ensured we are in a financially sustainable position. I would like to say thank you on behalf of the board for everything she has achieved and look forward to recruiting a successor who can build on her accomplishments.”

Get involved

Read Sue Wilkinson’s personal reflections on her time as our Chief Executive

Find out more about The Reading Agency’s work via our Programmes page

Read more about The Reading Agency’s achievements and aims via our Impact page

Summer Reading Challenge awarded Arts Council evaluation funding

7 January 2019: The Reading Agency, in partnership with the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians (ASCEL) and Libraries Connected, has been awarded £120,000 from Arts Council England to pursue an external evaluation of the impact of taking part in the Summer Reading Challenge.

The Summer Reading Challenge is one of the country’s biggest reading for pleasure programmes, reaching children aged 4-11 years across the socio-economic spectrum. The Challenge offers children and families an enjoyable, free activity in the six-week summer break from school when reading skills and confidence can dip, commonly known as the ‘summer slide’.

For many children there is a stagnation or even a reversal in learning progress over the summer

A strong body of evidence is emerging which shows that for many children there is a stagnation or even a reversal in learning progress over the summer, which places disadvantaged pupils even further behind when school starts again. This funding will allow The Reading Agency to evaluate the impact of the Summer Reading Challenge on the summer slide in relation to both reading skills and reading enjoyment.

The study will also explore the role a public library-based reading activity such as the Summer Reading Challenge can have on building wider school and family engagement with reading.

The project will involve an analysis of standardised testing focusing on complex reading comprehension and confidence. The researchers will also conduct interviews with children, teachers and parents and carers to explore children’s perceptions of their own enjoyment of reading, reading skills, reading confidence and feelings of wellbeing. Twenty schools across the country will be recruited to take part in the study, with a particular emphasis on some of the most deprived areas of the country, where the research shows that the summer slide is worse.

We want libraries to continue to be places where culture and creativity thrive in local communities

Sue Wilkinson, Chief Executive of The Reading Agency, said: “We are delighted with this investment from the Arts Council. We hope that this large-scale piece of independent research will give us and our library partners a strong evidence base to help us develop and advocate for the Summer Reading Challenge for many years to come.”

Janene Cox, chair of the Summer Reading Challenge strategy group, said: “Libraries across the United Kingdom welcome this grant from the Arts Council England. It will enable The Reading Agency to conduct an independent and thorough external evaluation of the Summer Reading Challenge which will evidence the strengths and opportunities that this important programme provides and also, hopefully identify areas where we need to focus and improve. Through this robust analysis, libraries and, most importantly, the children who participate will continue to see the benefits of this reading for pleasure programme.”

Sue Williamson, Libraries Director for Arts Council England, said: “We want libraries to continue to be places where culture and creativity thrive in local communities and we are happy to support The Reading Agency as they commission research into the impact of the Summer Reading Challenge which will support the future of this invaluable programme.”

Get involved

  • The grant to lead the research for this project is worth £65,000. Researchers interested in bidding for this can find out more, and download the tender here.
  • Contact Dr Carina Spaulding, Research and Evaluation Manager here.
The Reading Agency

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